horse chewing wood featured image

Horse Chewing Wood: Causes and Solutions

Horse chewing wood is a common issue faced by many horse owners. This behavior can be attributed to a variety of underlying causes, such as boredom, stress, or even nutritional deficiencies. Understanding why a horse chews wood and the potential health implications can help horse owners identify prevention strategies to keep their equine companions healthy and their wooden structures intact.

One key aspect to consider is that chewing wood is a natural behavior observed in horses, even though they cannot digest it. Wild horses have been known to browse or chew on tree bark or branches, so it comes as no surprise that domesticated horses may also engage in this habit. However, excessive wood chewing can lead to a range of issues, such as damage to the horse’s teeth, ingestion of splinters, and a weakened digestive system.

Addressing the underlying causes of wood chewing in horses is vital for their overall health and well-being. Ensuring they have access to proper nutrition, adequate exercise, and mental stimulation helps reduce this undesired behavior. In some cases, seeking professional help may be necessary to provide individualized guidance and solutions.

Key Takeaways

  • Horse chewing wood is a natural behavior with various underlying causes
  • Excessive wood chewing can lead to dental and digestive problems in horses
  • Addressing the root causes and employing prevention strategies are vital for maintaining equine health

Understanding Horse Behavior

Why Horses Chew Wood?

Horses often chew wood as a way to ease boredom or frustration in their enclosures. This behavior damages the wood and can lead to problems for the horse, such as undue wear on the incisors and the risk of splinters being lodged in the mouth or swallowed. In the wild, it’s natural for horses to browse and chew on tree bark or branches, with traces of bark often found in the feces of feral horses.

Some factors that can contribute to wood chewing in domestic horses are:

  • Boredom or stress
  • Inadequate or inconsistent feeding
  • Limited access to forage or pasture
  • Need for additional roughage or fiber in their diets

It’s important to address these factors in order to reduce wood-chewing behavior and ensure the well-being of the horse.

Body Language of Horses

Understanding a horse’s body language is crucial for safely working with and handling them. Their behavior can give insights into their emotions and state of mind, allowing handlers to predict and prevent potentially aggressive or dangerous situations.

Key aspects of a horse’s body language include:

  • Ears: Ears pointing forward indicate curiosity or attentiveness, while ears laid back flat against the head signal fear, aggression, or pain.
  • Eyes: Wide-open eyes can show fear or surprise, while half-closed eyes may indicate relaxation or submission.
  • Tail: A tail raised high may indicate excitement or playfulness, while a tail clamped down tightly could signal fear or submission.
  • Head and neck: A raised head with an arched neck suggests confidence and attentiveness, while a lowered head with a relaxed neck indicates relaxation or submission.

Being aware of these body language cues can help handlers to better understand and communicate with their horses, fostering a positive and safe relationship.

Related: Horse Training

Health Implications

Damage to Teeth

Horses that chew wood may experience unnecessary wear on their front teeth, which can affect their ability to chew properly and, in turn, hinder digestion. Wood chewing also poses the risk of ingesting sharp wood fragments, potentially causing injuries to the horse’s digestive system.

While wood chewing can be a natural behavior observed in horses, it’s crucial to address the issue in domesticated horses to prevent any long-term damage to their dental health.

Risk of Colic

Another health implication of horses chewing wood is the risk of colic. As their digestive tracts are designed to process large amounts of fiber, the indigestible nature of wood may lead to potential problems.

The presence of sharp wood fragments in the horse’s digestive system creates the potential for perforation. This can increase the likelihood of developing colic, a painful and potentially fatal condition that affects the horse’s gastrointestinal tract.

It’s essential to monitor and prevent wood-chewing behavior in horses to minimize the risk of these health complications.

Underlying Causes

Boredom and Stress

Horses may develop the habit of chewing wood due to boredom or stress. This can result from various factors, including a lack of exercise, insufficient mental stimulation, or being confined in small spaces. Chewing wood provides a form of relief or distraction from these situations. To curb this habit, it is crucial to address the underlying issues and ensure the horse receives adequate exercise and engagement in mentally stimulating activities.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Another possible cause of wood chewing in horses is nutritional deficiencies. Horses experiencing pica, the craving for non-food substances such as wood, may have an underlying nutritional or hormonal issue. Inadequate access to essential nutrients like minerals and vitamins can lead horses to seek out alternative sources, like chewing wood. To prevent this behavior, it is important to provide a well-balanced diet that meets all the horse’s nutritional needs. Proper veterinary care can also help uncover and address any underlying health issues that may contribute to wood chewing.

Prevention Strategies

Behavioral Interventions

One effective way to prevent horses from chewing wood is to provide them with a variety of toys and activity items, which can redirect their attention and alleviate boredom. Additionally, ensuring that your horse has regular contact with other horses can help promote socialization and reduce the likelihood of wood chewing.

It is also important to provide adequate exercise for your horse, as this can help prevent boredom and reduce the urge to chew wood. Spending time outdoors with plenty of grass or hay to graze on can further discourage wood-chewing behaviors.

Dietary Adjustments

Another approach to preventing wood chewing in horses involves making dietary adjustments. Providing your horse with plenty of hay and ensuring that they have a balanced diet can help to meet their nutritional needs and minimize the desire to chew on wood.

In some cases, adding a small amount of apple cider vinegar to their water or coating wooden surfaces with bitter apple spray can help deter horses from chewing on wood. However, it is important to monitor your horse’s health and response to these additions and consult with a veterinarian if any concerns arise.

Ultimately, a combination of behavioral interventions and dietary adjustments can be effective in preventing horses from chewing wood. By paying close attention to your horse’s needs and providing a stimulating environment, you can help ensure their well-being and protect your wooden structures.

Professional Help

Role of a Veterinarian

In some cases, consulting a veterinarian is necessary to determine the cause and find appropriate solutions for horses chewing wood. A veterinarian may examine the overall health of the horse, including dental health, to ensure there are no underlying health conditions causing this behavior. They can also recommend changes in the horse’s diet to ensure they are receiving proper nutrition. For example, increasing grass or hay intake might help prevent wood chewing in horses seeking fiber.

A veterinarian may also suggest specific management changes to alleviate boredom or stress in a horse’s environment. This could include increasing turnout time, providing more socialization with other horses, or incorporating environmental enrichment objects, such as toys or treat dispensers, to help keep the horse mentally engaged.

Animal Behavioral Specialist

In some cases where veterinary intervention does not resolve the issue or the behavior is not related to health problems, it’s beneficial to consult an animal behavioral specialist. These professionals have specialized expertise in addressing behavioral issues in horses, including wood chewing.

Animal behavioral specialists can assess the horse’s environment and daily routine, identifying potential triggers for this undesired behavior. They will then develop a tailored behavior modification plan, which may consist of various techniques such as:

  • Redirection: Providing alternatives to wood, such as safe chew toys or appropriate dental treatments.
  • Positive reinforcement: Rewarding the horse for not chewing wood, reinforcing good behavior.
  • Environmental modification: Changing the horse’s environment to reduce the opportunity for wood chewing, such as using specific materials on fences or stalls that are less attractive for horses to chew.

By collaborating with both a veterinarian and an animal behavioral specialist, horse owners can address the root causes of their horse’s wood-chewing habit and help them overcome this undesired behavior.


Frequently Asked Questions

Why do horses chew on wood?

Horses chew on wood for a variety of reasons, including boredom, stress, and frustration, which may result from the unnatural environment often experienced by domestic horses. A vitamin or mineral deficiency could also contribute to this behavior.

How to stop horses chewing fence rails?

To stop horses from chewing fence rails, first determine the cause of the chewing. Common causes include boredom, stress, lack of exercise, and hunger. Addressing these issues may help curb this behavior and change their habits for good.

What is the difference between cribbing and wood chewing?

Cribbing is a stereotypic behavior where a horse grips a solid object (such as a fence rail) with its incisors, arches its neck, and then swallows air while making a grunting noise. Wood chewing, on the other hand, involves the horse actually gnawing and consuming pieces of wood, tree bark, or branches.

What is the best product to prevent horse wood chewing?

There isn’t a universally “best” product to prevent horse wood chewing, as its effectiveness depends on the individual horse. However, some popular products include anti-chew sprays and taste deterrents designed specifically for horses. You can also consider using physical barriers or providing alternative chewing options like chew toys or hay to help redirect the horse’s chewing behavior.

What can be applied to wood to deter horses from chewing?

You can apply anti-chew sprays, taste deterrents, or even homemade solutions like a mix of hot sauce and water to the wood surfaces to deter horses from chewing. Ideally, the substance used should be non-toxic and not damage the wood.

Are there any effective anti-chew sprays for horses?

Yes, there are anti-chew sprays designed specifically for horses that can be effective in deterring them from chewing wood. However, the effectiveness may vary depending on the individual horse, so it’s important to try different products if necessary and address the underlying cause of the wood chewing behavior.

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Nate Dewsbury

About The Author

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

fourteen − 9 =